Weeds: A family resemblance

My sis-in-law, Gwen of Gibbon, came across a photo she shared with me. It was from about 40 years ago. Pam and I were dating or just married. My father Sylvester is in it. He was then about the age I am now. Gwen pointed out, and I couldn’t deny, there were/are strong similarities between us. I admit doing a double take when I saw it.

I never really thought of me looking like my dad. He was old; I was young. Sylvester was 48 when I came along. I never knew him as anybody but an old guy. Lo and behold, now I’m an old guy. Pictures don’t lie, right?

I am not alone in noting this phenomenon. Among friends I’ve had since boyhood, we joke about turning into our parents. As far as we knew, our parents were only young in black and white wedding pictures that hung in hallways. Now we look around, and I’ll be if Mike Schmid doesn’t look like Don and John Schwartz doesn’t look like Jim. I guess that’s the way genetics works. But like a lot of things we know in our head, they surprise us when they happen.

When I write, I try to think of things a reader and I have in common. It’s like a conversation where you build off things you share. This time it’s easy. Each of us, all of us, have a mother and a father.

From there, differences grow. You may have grown up like me with one set of parents in one house. Or you might have had stepparents through death or divorce. Or you might be adopted and may or may not know your biological parents.

There can be a distinction made between the mother and father who gave you your genes and the mother and father who raised you. Most of us give large credit to the people who changed your diaper, taught you how to bike, and sat through your school conferences when handing out the title of Mom and Dad.

In the competition for saddest things, high on that list has to be a battle for parental rights. To think that care and love and affection for a child would be something to be fought over in a court is terribly grim. But it happens. It is a sign this is a broken world. It has always been such; it is all our obligation to make it less broken.

As we totter between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, it’s a good time to think of what our parents have given to us. It certainly is the way we look, but there is so much more.

When children are young, it’s common to hear this one has mom’s forehead or that one has dad’s chin. Or maybe they have their grandmother’s hair or their grandfather’s ears. I don’t think little kids especially like those comparisons. You can almost see them thinking. “What do you mean? I’m me. I’m not someone else.”

I still occasionally have an older relative tell me such things. Unlike a small child, now I enjoy hearing that. When I see Sylvester in the mirror, it’s a connection I am glad to have. My parents are gone 20 years, and it’s nice to call them to mind. Beyond that relationship, I remember that I am a link in a chain that goes back many generations. The great majority of my ancestors I won’t know, even if I do have my great, great, great-grandfather’s cheeks.

We have babies in Pam’s family right now, two great-nieces. As we’ve begun to get together, I’ve met these new people. Watching their small faces, I remember the intense staring that little ones do. Their eyes have such focus on those close to them. That’s the parents most of the time. You can see babies using this time to learn how facial expressions work, how a smile turns the lips this way and a frown that way.

There are those physical things we inherit. But beyond features and expressions, there are parts of our makeup we take from our parents that we’ll never fully understand and appreciate. These are at least as important as our hair. When we are young, we absorb like sponges. Attitudes, biases, interests are put in us.

Sometimes working on the farm, I’ll come across a problem. And after it has been resolved effectively, or poorly handled in some cases, I remember working with my father in comparable situations. I suspect the way I analyze, sort information, see the options, and come to conclusions have similarities to the way my dad did. That is natural.

In like fashion, I suspect there are ways I am a husband and a father that are rooted in things I saw my parents do. Some of that is advice they gave me. But more of it is watching how they carried themselves. We know children pay more attention to what we do than what we say.

Of course, there are large elements of mystery in this. It’s hardly predictable. Scientists can debate nature vs. nurture for hours. Many of us see our children, raised by the same parents in the same home, and are surprised how different they are.

I look at our own children. I think it is difficult to see Pam and me or our influence in their grown selves. I am too close to them to see that. I still from time to time stop and feel amazed that here they are, three unique and beautiful people. They can certainly drive us nuts, but they are a miracle. Every parent has those moments.

Then I remember the hand of the Creator in putting them on Earth and in their lives. They have a soul that was given to them in the womb. That is the greatest miracle. They have God’s spirit. That’s a bigger deal than Pam’s hair or my nose.


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